20 Years Yourope: ‘The European Festival Scene Is Stronger Than Ever’

Melt! Festival
Johannes Riggelsen
– Melt! Festival
Attracts some 30,000 people to Ferropolis Island in Gräfenhainichen, Germany

Yourope is the name of Europe’s association of festival promoters. Since it launched in 1998, its member count has been growing constantly. Today, more than 90 festivals – including flagships such as Pinkpop, Pohoda, Rock im Park, Primavera Sound, Roskilde or Sziget – and associated members such as technology companies or insurers are part of Yourope. Pollstar reached out to the association’s board members, and lawyer, to capture the status quo of Europe’s festival scene.

A members survey conducted in 2017 showed that the main concern for Europe’s festival operators isn’t security or the economy, but increasing competition, rising artists fees and a lack of headliners. According to Yourope’s general secretary Chrstiof Huber, these three things go hand in hand: the corporate players are able to establish themselves in new markets despite operating in the red for several years. Independents cannot compete
with that, they feel the economic pressure from day one. What is more, global players are able to offer artists combined global offers, which can be hard to beat.

Despite the challenges, however, “we see that the European Festival scene is stronger and bigger than ever. There is a huge number of strong festival brands that were established in the past 10 years, such as Northside, NOSAlive, Lollapalooza Berlin and Paris, MadCool, Parookaville and many others. There have also been a lot of new events in territories like Portugal, Spain and in the east which suffered quite hard in the economical crisis,” said Huber.

The optimists in the business are convinced that there is always going to be room for small and unique event, the so-called boutique festivals. One of them is Philippe Cornu, the founder of Switzerland’s iconic Gurtenfestival and Yourope board member. He believes that “boutique festivals will become even more important in the future, because the whole experience of having a good, quality time with friends or family is one of the most important things in life. In the fast-paced digital world we want to slow down again and enjoy the little things. Surprises and unexpected experiences are mostly not happening on the screens of big stages. It is more and more about inspiration, arts and culture, discussions and exchange, having time at hand, enjoying a great band close to the stage, good food, wellbeing and caring about nature.”

The Board of Yourope
– The Board of Yourope
Mikolaj Ziolkowski, Fruzsina Szép, Christof Huber, Ivan Milivojev and Philippe Cornu

Looking at Eastern Europe, it can be said that the region has long ceased to be an emerging market, at least is parts. It is not possible to look at Eastern Europe as one homogenous territory, the different countries are far too diverse, as far as their live entertainment infrastructure is concerned. Comparing, say, Poland or Slovakia or Hungary to Lithuania or Romania or Bulgaria, makes no sense.

“More than ever there is a great diversity between the, would be like comparing Germany to Austria or Switzerland, where the sheer size determines the market’s potential,” said Mikolaj Ziolkowski of Alter Art, the promoter of Poland’s largest festivals Open’er, Orange Warsaw and Krakow Live.
Speaking about Poland, he said: “If you look at all levels, like festival headliners, infrastructure, capacity the market is similar to the rest of Europe.” Open’er, for example, has a capacity of 120,000, and will be headlined by Arctic Monkeys, Bruno Mars, Depeche Mode and Gorillaz in 2018.
The Rolling Stones are going to visit Warsaw’s National Stadium as part of their “No Filter” tour. Tickets for the tour are priced quite high, but sold-out as quickly in Poland as in any other market.

“It’s a booming economy,” Ziolkowski said. “Poland is a smaller market than the UK or Germany, but it’s bigger than many other European markets.”

Another topic that has kept Europe’s promoters fairly busy in recent years is direct licensing. There are a number of artists, who write their own songs and choose to license them directly to concert and festival promoters and collect their public performance royalties themselves, without the help from collecting societies (PRO). The reason many songwriter-artists decided to do so was the revelation that some PROs granted the major promoters
discounts on the songwriter fee they had to pay. Those discounts, however, were not taken from the PRO’s overhead but rather the songwriter’s share. Artists were receiving as little as half of what they had originally paid in songwriter fees back from their own collecting societies. It is only fair that artists are taking matters into their own hands.

However, this creates problems for multiday and multi-artist festivals, which pay a blanket license fee to PROs for the use of music. If a few acts want
festival promoters pay twice, because PROs currently don’t have a way of reducing the tariff they charge accordingly. Pollstar reached out to Yourope’s legal advisor, who is none other than Glastonbury`s lawyer Ben Challis to find out about the Yourope’s stance on the matter. He said: “Direct
licensing remains a concern for Festivals across Europe as we are caught in the crossfire between PROs, their dissatisfied members and new unregulated rights agencies.”

By which he means PACE, a private company that takes care of the necessary paperwork on behalf of rightsholders, who want to direct license. Said Challis: “Whilst in some countries local PROs have taken steps to remove the often controversial ‘discounts’ (or ‘kick backs’) offered to promoters, and the predicted large increase in the number of direct licensing artistes has not really happened, some of our members have had a difficult time dealing
with direct licensing acts and new business models. Our advice to festivals is still not to book direct licensing artistes, but of course that is not always an option and some of our members will now be dealing with the issue at the contracting stage for a live show.”

“But we also feel it is time to ask the PROs some tough questions: it is unacceptable that Yourope Members, who pay for 100 percent music licenses, are left facing the potential of unexpected and additional music licensing costs at very short notice during the festival season. The upshot is that the PROs need to be transparent, and promoters and direct licensing artists need simple administrative model(s) that can be used,” he concluded.

European Festival Conference 2017
Fabienne Wolfschläger
– European Festival Conference 2017
Yourope members “Take A Stand”

In 2016, Yourope launched a campaign named “Take A Stand,” which encourages social cohesion in a divided world. Over 50 festivals, associations, clubs, companies and partners all over Europe support the campaign. Pollstar asked Fruzsina Szép, festival director of Lollapalooza Berlin, about the social responsibility of festival operators in times when politics is dividing people more than ever. She said standing up for what is right was “the core and the essence of our European festival community and this topic is more relevant than ever. Festivals are playing a huge part of social life in society.”

“We have to fight human and political stupidity and we have to show and give valuable, meaningful examples to our audiences. With our festivals we have the responsibility to promote awareness and tolerance for all cultures, genders, races, religions, sexual orientations, colors and cultural origins. We have to motivate people to participate actively in social activities, raise their voices about topics that they don’t agree to, provide platform where
they can do so, to support them in speaking up for a peaceful dialog, for humanism and for mutual understanding.”

“It is our task to provide our fans our audiences from near and far to go home from our festivals not only with the experiences of a great colorful festival but also with a positive mission and vision in their heads and hearts how they can take active part in making and shaping our world into a better place and keeping peace and freedom in the society where they live in. The time of staying silent is over!”